Dream Catcher by P.J. Blakey-Novis

Dream Catcher is the story of a man who tests out a new smart watch which records his dreams, leading to a bizarre and horrifying series of events.

 It was brand new technology, an adaptation of those sports watches which monitor how well a person sleeps.  It was so completely new, in fact, that they were still in the trial phase.  Being keen on both fitness and gadgets, it was only to be expected that Paul had purchased each latest model of watch as they were released.  At the bottom of one email from his favourite brand, there was an invitation to take part in the beta-testing phase of the newest design. Paul had signed up to apply without a second thought, after all he was the ideal customer to test such a thing.

The new model was being temporarily referred to as D2V by the manufacturers - Dreams to Visual.  From a fitness point of view, it had the same functions that his other watches had had; heart rate, step counter, sleep duration and, of course, time and date.  These could all be viewed on the watch's screen and via an app on Paul's smart phone. The key difference, and it was a big one, was the dream function.  It was being marketed as being able to record your dreams, with the goal being to establish the possible causes of them.  However, the real deal-breaker was the playback function.  Recording the pattern of brain activity whilst a person slept, the software could formulate the dream into a visual piece.  Essentially, you could watch your dreams when you were awake, like a film.

It was unclear whether or not testers for these samples were chosen at random, or whether Paul's spiel about how he was the perfect candidate had held any sway, but he was chosen as one of five people to take part in the testing phase.  The watch was to be dispatched to arrive the following day, and the confirmation email contained a link to the app, from which he could install it on his phone, as the app was not yet publicly available.  Paul immediately installed the application, and it was clear that there was still some work to do on its presentation.  There was a dashboard, as with the other fitness apps he had used, but currently this only featured the sleep and dream information. As this was the newest technology, it made sense that this should be found to be working as intended before adding the other, simpler, features. From what Paul could tell, the app would record how long he had slept for and any time spent awake or restless, as well as any dream itself.  There was a video camera icon on the screen to push when he wished to view his dream from the previous night.  Paul found it all hugely intriguing and eagerly awaited delivery.

The next day the watch arrived, looking much the same as any other.  It bore the time and date on the rather large face, but all features were disabled bar the dream recording. Alison, Paul's wife tried to show an interest, relieved that he had not spent more money on a device that he did not really need, but she was becoming bored with hearing about how many steps he had taken each day.  The dream recording sounded far-fetched to Alison and, despite doubting that it would actually work, she teased him about how she would now know if he had been dreaming about other women. This got Paul's back up, having not found the joke amusing, and he pointed out that he did not remember the last time he had a dream about anything.  What are you testing it for then? Alison asked him, innocently enough.  Paul did not answer, however, deciding to read through the chart that he had been sent with the watch to complete.

It looked fairly straightforward, with boxes to fill in with the date, length of sleeping and basic information that the manufacturers would be able to take from the app anyway.  The one box that was extra to the logged information was named 'side effects'.  Paul was to write in there if he felt different in any way, whether this was sickness, headaches and so on. Guess they're just covering themselves, he thought. The day dragged on and, with the help from a bottle of red wine, Paul finally felt ready to get to sleep.  Let's see what this thing does then.

The morning arrived with the shriek of his alarm, and Paul sleepily reached across to silence it.  He always set his for around an hour before Alison awoke, his intention being to go on a run before she was up.  This happened on approximately half of the mornings, which he saw as still quite an achievement.  As much as the wine had helped him to sleep, his head ached a little and the thought of leaving the bed was too much at that moment.  Glancing at the watch around his wrist, he quickly remembered the dream recorder and decided to test it out before his wife was there looking over his shoulder.  I don't remember dreaming anything, he thought glumly, expecting there to be nothing to view.

The dashboard on the app showed a video, only three minutes in length.  Well, I suppose it wouldn't run for the same length of time that I was sleeping, he thought, contemplating how time appears to distort in one's dreams. Taking his earphones from the side of the bed, Paul inserted them into the socket and hit play.  The video was jumpy, like a badly edited film.  The whole thing appeared to be from his point of view, or at least, someone whom he assumed was himself.  He watched as he got into a black car, a large one that he did not recognize.  The scene jumped to him walking through an empty city at night, then through a green door at the side of an unmarked building. Suddenly, Paul found himself in some sort of underground nightclub, possibly the interior of the building he had just entered, perhaps somewhere else entirely.  It looked similar to something he had seen in a film recently and assumed that this was where the thought had originated.

As the video continued, Paul saw himself approach the bar and the scenes merged into one blurry tale.  He was downing shots of an amber liquid, flashing lights cutting through the darkness inside the room to illuminate the crowd.  Suddenly, two women appeared beside him, looking as though they were talking to him, but he could not hear them over the music.  Dressed in tight leather and with multiple piercings, they began kissing each other as Paul stared on and then, for an unknown reason, they wrote a telephone number on a book of matches bearing the club's logo of an upside-down cross with an eye above it. It was as one of the women, the one with the large spider tattoo on her neck, handed him the number, the video ended.  Bloody alarm clock! Paul thought.

He struggled to understand the video and, apart from being glad that Alison had not watched it, he did not know what to think.  He certainly did not remember having that dream, but he had read somewhere that we dream every night, usually completely forgetting it, by the time we awaken. While the dream was fresh on his mind, Paul decided to fill out the feedback sheet with the data and get himself ready for the day, having enjoyed the video and becoming more intrigued to see what tomorrow's would look like.

Alison was not working that day and had barely risen when Paul was ready to leave for work.  He bid her good-bye before she had chance to ask about any dreams and made his way out to his car only to find himself blocked in.  The car was parked outside their house, as usual, but he had left it with the rear bumper close to the front of the one behind.  Some inconsiderate sod had parked in front of his, in the identical fashion that he had.  Most of the cars on their street were the same ones each day, and he had a good idea of who owned which.  This one was different though; it looked out of place but strangely familiar.  Maybe someone bought a new car? he wondered, seeing that he would not get out of the space with the big, black 4x4 in the way.  The car behind belonged to the lady who lived next door, so he knocked for her, hoping that she would be able to move it for him. After a few attempts, there still came no answer, and he unhappily wandered along to the nearest bus stop, calling his workplace to forewarn them of his inevitable lateness.

The bus journey felt as though it was taking much longer than usual, something that often happens when one is in a hurry.  It was the same route as he had taken many times before, in the days prior to owning the car, but there were parts that looked different somehow.  I haven't taken a bus for a while, he thought.  I'm sure it's nothing. It was only when he stood up to get off of the bus that he felt a hand grab his arm.  Turning suddenly, he saw an elderly man holding on to him.

"You dropped this," he told Paul, opening his hand slowly. Paul's eyes widened as he looked at the black match book, cross and eye logo featured on the front of it.  Quickly, Paul snatched it from the man and stuffed it into his pocket without so much as a thank you.  It was too much to process, making no sense at all.  Had he actually dropped it?  If so, how did he come to even have it?  Heading down a narrow walkway as a short cut to the office, he paused to open the matches.  Inside was a telephone number, just as he had seen in the video.  He decided, as he was already late for work, to replay the footage and try to make sense of it.  The car! Paul saw that the car from his dream looked almost identical to the one outside his house.  The matches were also the same.  But where was this club?  And those women?!

Trying not to panic, Paul asked around about nightclubs, as casually as he could manage.  It didn't come naturally for him, his years of clubbing having long since passed and the gothic, metal scene was not one with which his co-workers would associate him with. No-one seemed to know of the place he was describing, having told them that it was somewhere Alison had suggested that they go one evening.   The day moved slowly, even after being an hour late to work.  The only contact he had had from Alison was a text asking him why he had not taken the car.  Paul told her that it had been blocked in by 'some idiot with a 4x4' and that next door were not home.  Apparently, the car was gone by the time Alison had looked outside.

Paul chose not to mention the dream video or the matches as he was unable to explain of it.  There was a strong temptation to call the number on the matches but, as foolish at it sounded, he was scared to.  He did, however, decide to write on the feedback form about these strange occurrences in the 'side effects' column. As impossible as they seemed, there had to be some kind of connection. Before bed on that second night, Paul decided to watch the video one more time in the hope that his dream would continue from where it had left off.  Perhaps something about the club's location will be revealed?  Maybe something to identify the women?

When morning came, once again his sleep interrupted by his alarm, there was another video.  This was a longer one, nearer to five minutes.  Whether or not it continued on from the previous footage was impossible to say, the time line in dreams not being as linear as in real life.  There were similarities between the two clips, however, especially the 'feel' of them.  If they had been movies, they would have looked as though they had had the same director.  The second dream was more surreal than the first and featured Paul apparently stumbling across some kind of secret society preparing for a ritual of sorts. It was, again, very jumpy and Paul saw winding tunnels, torches of fire adorning the walls.  There was a line of people passing him as he wandered along them, all in red gowns with their hoods up.  No one was speaking.  As soon as the last person passed him Paul turned to join the end of the procession, looking down to see that he too was wearing a red gown. He followed them through to a large chamber, hundreds of candles illuminating it.  A huge stone pentacle was embedded into the rock beneath his feet as he gazed upon a marble table that was by now encircled by the other people.  On the table was a woman, fully nude, face down.  Her ankles and wrists were tied to poles, spreading them as far as she could manage.  From where Paul stood, her head was farthest from him, affording him a rather explicit view.

Terrified at what appeared to be about to happen, Paul turned to try and leave.  His path was blocked, however, by a female figure.  The red hood masked most of the features on her face, only a large tattoo of a spider being visible on her neck.  It was at this moment of finding some familiarity that his alarm clock must dragged him back to reality, and the video ended suddenly. This is fucking weird, he thought, not having the slightest memory of any dream, especially ones like these. Today Paul did feel sick, which he put down to the general state of confusion that he was in.  Nevertheless, once he had had the idea that he should call work and take a day off; it was decided.  Alison would be leaving within an hour or so and then he could try to get to the bottom of what was happening.  Once the bathroom was free, Paul opted to take an excessively long shower, hoping that his wife would not think of asking if the watch had captured any dreams yet. He told her that he was feeling a bit funny and not going to work.  She looked at him suspiciously, knowing full well that he was fine and wondering what he was up to.  Alison chose to say nothing and, after giving him a peck on the forehead, left the house to go to work.

Time to man up, Paul thought as he began to dial the number from the book of matches.  There was no answer but it went to an answering service, a woman's voice telling him to leave a message, and she might get back to him.  He chose not to, unable to think of anything to say.  He certainly couldn't think of anything believable anyway. Wandering around the house in just his towel, Paul tried to decide what he should do.  He thought about calling the people who had sent him the watch but doubted they would have anything useful to say; they'd probably think he was insane if anything. He regretted not taking the number plate of the 4x4 and now had no way to try to follow up on that potential clue.  Turning to the Internet for help, Paul began searching for clubs that sounded similar to the one he had seen.  There were none anywhere near to wear he lived, the nearest rock and metal clubs being more than an hour away.  He had no luck finding the logo either and started to read up on sacrificial rituals, desperate to find a solid link.  Of course, it could just be constructed from my mind, dreaming something doesn't make it real, he told himself, trying to ignore the fact that the matches on his kitchen table were indeed very much existent.

The information that he found online was tedious and very general, mostly referring to suspected rituals carried out by various groups, but with nothing confirmed as being accurate.  There were no known groups which wore red gowns and sacrificed women, assuming that was their intention, above the symbol of the pentacle. After two mugs of coffee and no real progress, Paul made his way back upstairs to get dressed.  Opening his wardrobe, he almost missed it at first, pulling a T-shirt off of a hanger.  Changing his mind on the choice of clothing, he went to hang it back up when he saw it.  It would be more accurate to say he felt it before actually laying eyes on it, the softness standing out as unfamiliar. Hands beginning to tremble, Paul slowly removed the red, hooded gown from his wardrobe, the sickness that he had felt earlier becoming a full-on wave of nausea.

Paul threw the gown on to his bed, along with the matches, and stared at them.  To begin with he felt confused, muddled.  Now he felt terrified, more so than he had ever been before.  It has to be a prank,  he told himself, hopefully.  But it's not fucking funny if someone is coming in my house! Angrily, Paul redialed the number from the matches and this time, left a message.  I don't know what's going on, but it needs to stop now.  You've had your fun.  Having been unable to shout at an actual person, Paul still felt on edge and chose to call the manufacturers of the watch.  The customer service adviser did not sound remotely concerned or surprised by what Paul told her. She explained patiently that the software had created a visual record of his dreams, and it was perfectly normal to see things from these dreams when awake, but that these were coincidences.  After all, she had said, there are probably thousands of black 4x4s. Paul tried to explain, as calmly as he could, that the gown which had appeared in his wardrobe was not there before.  He only saw it in the dream.  Perhaps it's your wife's and you didn't know she had it, was all he was told.  Accepting that he was getting nowhere he finished the call without saying good-bye.

Soon realizing that Paul would know nothing further until the watch had recorded some more footage, he became desperate for the night to come.  It was barely lunchtime and he felt helpless as he waited, frightened of what was to come next.  There were still at least six or seven hours until Alison would be home, and then it came to him, an idea that was definitely worth a try.  A few months ago, after a bout of quite severe depression, Alison had been prescribed temazepam. Paul recalled how they would render Alison asleep within half an hour, sending her off for a good four to five hours if she only took one.  He reasoned that, as he was supposed to be ill anyway, it wouldn't seem too strange should he be in bed when she returns and grabbing a bottle of water from the fridge, he decided to take two of the pills and get into bed.

Taking one pill would have been more sensible it seemed, nine hours having passed whilst Paul slept.  He awoke groggy, a little confused from sleeping during the daytime.  Once he saw how long he had been out for he made his way downstairs to find his wife but she was not there.  Glancing out of the living room window, he could not see her car parked anywhere nearby either.  Strange, he thought and went back upstairs to get his phone.  Seeing no messages from his wife to explain her absence, he prepared himself to view the latest dream footage, scared of what he would see. 

The dream had continued, exactly from the point at which the last had ended.  Paul stood in the red robe, gazing at the face of the woman he had met in the bar.  No one spoke; the only sound within the room was the stifled murmurs of the woman tied to the table.  Paul turned back to look at the naked victim, watching her writhe about in an attempt to get free.  Her head was covered by a mask of some sort, similar to the kind worn at nineteenth-century dances.  He watched as someone broke from the circle and approached the victim, something glowing in their hand.  It was only as they rose it into the air that Paul saw that it was a branding iron.  Helplessly he looked on as the upturned cross and the all-seeing eye were burnt into the woman's back.  Paul quickly turned to leave, attempting to overpower the tattooed woman, but to no avail.

Despite there being no conversation, something propelled him to act.  It was a form of acceptance, as though he knew what was expected of him, and he felt that the consequence for refusing far outweighed the terrible act that he was to perform.  Sitting on his bed, Paul watched as he moved forward in the video, standing directly behind the bound woman.  The film was jumpy again so it was unclear as to where the knife had come from, but it was now in his hand, and he had to do as requested. Raising the blade into the air with both hands around the handle, he plunged it into the woman's back repeatedly.  He heard a cracking sound as it hit bone, sticky scarlet spurts emanating from the gashes he was leaving on her.  Viciously, infinitely more so than he could imagine himself being capable of, he kept stabbing, repeatedly, until all he could see was red.  As he looked around at the others who had watched him, they began to clap.  The applause grew and grew, echoing from the cavern walls.  Then it ended, just like that.

After finding the matches and now the gown, it should not have been too surprising when he found something else, which did not belong.  Only this time, it sort of did.  The knife was his, from the block in the kitchen.  The blood, however, could have been anyone's.  Fear set in once again, dreading what had happened, terrified of what would be coming next.  Would this all stop if I just take the watch off?, he wondered.  Unable to think of anything else to try, he removed the watch and attempted to call his wife.  The call went straight to voice mail.  It was too late to call her workplace, so he would have to wait.  Being alone and frightened was not good, and he hoped that Alison would be back soon so that he could tell her what was going on, perhaps she could help somehow.

The sound of the doorbell interrupted his train of thought and, without considering why Alison would not have just let herself in, he headed to answer, relieved to have her home.  The four police officers at his door came as a shock, fearing that something had happened to his wife.  With little explanation, Paul was cuffed and led to a waiting police car while the other officers made their way into his home.  The conviction was solid; the police having found the knife covered in Alison's blood as well as video footage of the ceremony itself.  She was found down an alleyway, outside a green door.  Apart from a mask, she was fully nude and, among the seventy-four stab wounds to her back, there were the remnants of some satanic symbol burnt into her skin.  There were traces of hair and fibres from both himself, and Alison discovered in the back of a black 4x4 hire car, registered under his name.  His version of what had happened was laughed away, no one believing in a dream catching watch or any of the other oddness surrounding the case.  The more he protested his innocence, the less anything made sense and Paul was deemed to be delusional, not to mention extremely dangerous.  He was never to be released from the psychiatric facility and would spend the rest of his days in his own room, the only human interaction coming when his meals were delivered by the pretty girl with the spider tattoo on her neck.

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